After years of studying the effects of the Holocaust on survivors and their children Minka Pradelski has given the world a gift - a loving, whimsical, heartbreaking debut novel. Pradelski is not only a sociologist, documentarian and daughter of survivors but a writer with the rare capacity to tread effortlessly between comedy and tragedy with graceful prose.
Here Comes Mrs. Kugelman introduces two unforgettable characters although Mrs. Kugelman takes center stage. Narrator Tsippy Silberberg immediately tells us that she has been remembered in her late Aunt Halina’s will. A lawyer sent her an itemized list of her inheritance: “One small brown suitcase, approximately seventy years old, and one silver chest containing eight forks and nine knives of a fish service...”
Well, Tsippy is not about to ignore such a lavish bequest so she hops a plane to Tel Aviv to collect it in person. She hasn’t had time to settle in her hotel room when there is a loud knocking on her door. Her unexpected caller is an old woman, Bella Kugelman, a Holocaust survivor who is determined to tell stories about Bedzin, the Polish town in which she grew up. Her stories are rich in detail describing not only the town but those who lived there. She is convinced that by telling these stories she will somehow keep Bedzin alive in people’s minds and hearts.
At first Tsippy does all she can to discourage Mrs. Kugelman from returning and telling more stories. At one point Tsippy accuses Mrs. Kugelman of making Bedzin too perfect, which incenses Mrs. K. She asks Tsippy when she will get it into her head that there is nothing bad about Bedzin, and if there were someone would have had to make it up. But with time Tsippy becomes enthralled by the tales and begs Mrs. K. to tell her more.
Eventually Mrs. Kugelman’s stories are of the unforgivable as Nazis overrun Bedzin and leave a trail of horrific atrocities. Hearing all of this Tsippy reevaluates her own life and that of her parents who refused to tell her anything about their early years. She finally understands her aunt’s rather odd bequest.
As for the readers, we are reminded of the importance of sharing experiences and understanding when words do not come easily for others. Many thanks to Minka Pradelski for a story laced with wit, wisdom, and truth.
- Gail Cooke